Eastern Boys and Dragon Girls, by Matthew Eaton
Paul’s scream froze much like man across from him, only without the pale blue skin and being encased in ice. His attention turned to the gigantic white dragon, its shocked stare changing to panic. He blocked his face with his arms, half expecting to end up as the poor unfortunate iced man. The thing gasped. It sounded too familiar to him. He lowered his arms and stared at the dragon, knowing this mythical creature really was his girlfriend.
“Ophelia?” he asked, unsure.
Paul’s teeth chattered as he pulled his trench coat tighter, flipping the collar up to block the blustery late autumn breeze. He glanced at his friend Jim and wondered what was wrong with him. Jim strutted with a decisive swagger, wearing a thin t-shirt and tight pants and flexing his muscles at two young women standing in a small alcove handing out flyers. One of them handed a copy to Paul, and he took a quick look at it. It was about the mysterious shapes in the skies that appeared a few weeks ago and where to go to volunteer more information.
Jim stole the flyer, crumbled it up, and uttered a playful grunt as he tossed it over his shoulder. He posed for the women. The one who had handed Paul the flyer rolled her eyes and the other one struggled to hide her giggle. The women glanced at one another and walked away without a word, but they cast sidelong looks at Jim and Paul before disappearing into the crowd.
Paul shook his head, shuddered, and turned his attention to his friend. “How do you do that?”
“Do what?” Jim asked.
“Treat women like they’re objects?” Paul asked.
“They ain’t no object, though they can be an object of my affection.” Jim grabbed his crotch, chuckled, and elbowed Paul. “You know what I mean, right?”
Paul rolled his eyes and sighed. “I’m glad I never treat Ophelia like that.”
Jim’s playful expression melted at the mention of Ophelia. He adjusted his tight-fitting green shirt and cleared his throat as he stepped in front of Paul. “You need to ditch the chick, Paulie.”
“I’m not dumping Ophelia,” Paul said. He stopped, placed his hand in his pocket, and rubbed his fingertip against the small bow wrapped around the velvet-lined box. “You guys think she’s bad for me, but she understands—”
“Look, I ain’t gonna say it again.” Jim poked at Paul’s shoulder. “She only wants you for the money. You dig?”
Paul bristled at the accusation, though he could understand where the muscle-bound idiot was coming from. “She loves me for who I am, not for my money. I know you guys think she is strange, but she’s foreign-born, from Scandinavia, if I remember correctly.”
“She’s a cold-blooded shark, Paulie,” Jim flashed a smile at another pair of women walking by. “She’ll eat you up but good.”
“You sound like an idiot right now, you know that?”
“No, you just don’t know women.” Jim patted Paul on the shoulder, as though he were a child to be pitied. “They know, you know? They have an extra sensory perception thing.”
Paul smacked Jim’s hand away in disgust. “Good lord. You’ve been reading again, haven’t you?”
“You keep telling me to make my mind gooder, so that’s what I’ve been doing.” Jim flexed. “You got a problem?”
“You’re jealous, aren’t you?”
Jim’s face contorted as though he might have tasted something sour. He poked Paul’s belly and laughed. “The only thing you got that I ain’t got is a brain. Women don’t want no brains. They want bodies. They want to have someone take care of them good, you know what I’m saying?”
Paul shook his head and threw his hands over his head. “You are jealous.”
Jim cracked his neck and then worked on his knuckles. He walked backward, his volume of his voice increasing as he got farther away. “I ain’t jealous of no one. I’m the king of the bedroom, and the ladies love me. You dump that ice queen, and maybe I’ll buy you a drink. We’ll get you one of them blow-up dolls who love that computer stuff. Girls don’t like them computer thingies anyway.”
Paul waited for Jim to disappear before he turned and looked at a large window display. He studied his reflection, grabbing his stomach and squeezing and releasing it with a heavy sigh. “Maybe that goof is right. I thought I was doing so well. I was working harder, did some more exercising, teaching myself to be self-confident and outgoing, and yet it takes an idiot to topple all of this and make me feel like I used to.”
His attention shifted to one of the store employees taping up another missing person’s flyer. He wondered how many people were going to disappear before the authorities did something about it. He noticed that the woman in the window stared at him and smiled, but he felt embarrassed and gave her a curt nod before turning and walking away. He fished in his coat pocket and removed his smartphone, deftly operating it while avoiding the moving and stationary objects blocking his path.
He found Ophelia’s name and pressed the link to open her contact information. He debated calling, but wasn’t sure about his confidence level. She said loved him for his outgoing nature, but he was certain she wouldn’t be as accepting of his doubts. He watched the whole relationship fall apart in his mind, and for a moment he wondered if Jim might be an idiot savant.
He shook his head and shifted his thumb from the call button to the text option. He moved to a small alcove and let his thumbs type in a feverish pace as he glanced at the people passing by.
‘ARE YOU HOME?’ he wrote.
He held onto the phone and merged back into the flow of the foot traffic, wondering what might be going on at her apartment. If she were so cold-blooded, as Jim claimed, maybe she had another man on the side. She was fantastically fit, and impressively exotic for her pale Nordic skin and ice-blue eyes. Her smile was almost predatory.
No, wait. It was sweet. She was innocent, not a heartless monster. He chided himself for letting Jim get into his head again, but stopped when the phone vibrated. He read her answer.
‘SORRY, SWEETIE. I AM NOT FEELING MYSELF TODAY. CAN YOU COME BY TOMORROW?’
Paul groaned and pressed the call icon. Every ring made his heart race, and for a moment he thought about hanging up until Ophelia answered.
“Hi Paulie,” Ophelia said.
“Hey sweetie, are you sure I can’t come over?” Paul asked.
“No, I think that’s a bad idea,” she replied. Paul wondered why she was on the speaker phone, especially since she was at home alone. He strained to listen to the background noise, and thought she might be cuddling with someone right now. She sighed and said, “I told you, I was not really feeling myself. Can we do this tomorrow?”
“I have something special for you, and it can’t wait.”
He tried to keep the jealousy out of his voice, but he supposed he didn’t do as well as he expected. She replied with a dull tone, as though he had hurt her feelings. “Oh. Well, all right. You can come on by and drop it off in the living room. I don’t want you to catch what I have.”
“All right, that’ll have to do.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “I’ll see you in about fifteen minutes.”
“Oh, you’re that close?” She sounded nervous, and he imagined her trying to shoo someone out of the door. “Let me clean up, at least.”
“You aren’t feeling well. You need rest. I’ll let myself in and leave what I have for you.”
He ended the call before she could answer. He hated himself for springing on her. He picked up his pace to make it to her apartment earlier than expected, just to make sure no one else could leave before he was expected.
He sulked up the final few steps and stopped at Ophelia’s door, lifting the doormat with it’s dragon-head design up until he saw the thin silver key underneath. He grabbed it and twirled it in his hand for a moment, admiring the simple pattern and shuddering from the subtle chill.
He nudged the doormat back into place and inserted the key in the lock. The door shuddered when he turned the knob, and he wondered if he was responsible for setting off the car alarm blaring three blocks away.
The interior of Ophelia’s apartment was colder than it was outside. Steam vented from his mouth as he shivered and pulled his trench coat tighter. His nose and fingers were now ice cold, and his teeth chattered together. His eyes scanned the room, looking for an open window or some other source of the chill.
When he was satisfied the closed windows weren’t the source of the cold, he shifted his attention to the rest of the living room. Everything in the room was pristine. It looked as though no one even thought about touching anything, much less using it. The walls were bare, save for a few pictures of Ophelia’s family.
The only thing out of the ordinary was a giant tooth sitting inside of a Plexiglass cube resting on top of a simple table. It was labeled ‘first tooth’ and was so large that it looked as though it might have been one of Paul’s arms. He shuddered at the thought of what might be big enough to need teeth like that. “Man, I don’t remember anything like this from before,” Paul said. “I know I was a bit drunk that one night, but I would hope a tooth would stick in my mind no matter what.”
“Paul, is that you?” Ophelia asked.
Paul shifted his attention to the hallway. He mouthed the words ‘who else would it be?’ and thought about it for a moment. If she was expecting someone, she could use him as an excuse. “Yes, it’s me,” he replied. He knew better than to ruin something so wonderful, even if she wasn’t really invested as much as he was. “I was just admiring some of the changes in the apartment.”
Ophelia’s voice hit a higher pitch, and she sounded surprised at the statement. “Changes? What changes?”
He smirked. Of course she would be nervous; she needed to be, if she is hiding something. She might even have another man inside her room right now, holding his breath and waiting for him to leave. She would want him to forget everything he saw here. He—No, he had to play this right. There might be a reasonable explanation as to why things were different, and why it was far colder than he remembered. “Sorry, I was just lost in thought. I didn’t remember the giant tooth.”
A nervous peal of laughter echoed from the hall. It sounded massive, whatever it was. However, it was replaced by Ophelia’s sweet voice. “It’s a good thing that tooth isn’t real, right? Just imagine if you weren’t hallucinating.”
His eyebrows raised and his ears itched. She was hiding something. “It doesn’t matter anyway. I came here to see you and give you a gift.”
“A gift?” Ophelia asked. “For me?”
“I saw it earlier today and thought of you.”
“That’s sweet, but you shouldn’t be here.”
He folded his arms across his chest and stared at the end of the hall. Even though the door was open, he couldn’t see anything due to the darkness oozing out from the other side. ‘Great, here come the excuses,’ he thought to himself. Aloud he said, “Why shouldn’t I be here, Ophelia?”
“I have the…um…I…hmm…I am the flu.”
“You are the flu?”
“I am very much the flu, thank you very much. I am so flu that you will get flu and die too if you stay here.”
Paul didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or feel disgusted for how poorly she was treating him right now. “If you are sick, I can go to the drug store for you and find some medication—”
“No!” Ophelia said. She yelped, hissed, and groaned at the same time. “I mean, I am so flu that I bellow random things. You are sweet. Pink! I just need some rest and make sure that I have my strength.” She went silent for a moment before bellowing another word. “Waffles!”
Paul rubbed his finger on the box, trying to remember the sweet face that had told him everything he wanted to hear only a few days ago. It didn’t do much to calm him down, but he had to try something.
“What should I do with this gift?”
“You can leave it on the table, and I’ll let you know what I think about it when I have enough strength to not be the flu anymore, okay?”
He sighed and wondered what it was like to have a normal life. Of course he had to fall in love with a strange woman. Of course Jim was right, and no one would love him. Of course he was unworthy of any sort of affection. He had to give her a piece of his mind. He had to tell her off, just to get some sort of victory out of this situation. He needed to let her know how much she hurt him by cheating on him.
He approached the table, removed the gift box from his pocket, and placed it on the corner. “Fine, I’ll leave it here on the corner closest to your room. Whenever you aren’t flu, you won’t have to look far to find it.”
He opened the door and then slammed it as hard as he could. He scrambled to the farthest corner he could find and waited, listening for her to say something to whomever might be inside the room with her. After a few heart-rending moments of silence, she spoke to the other person. “No, that was Paul. He was dropping off a present for me.”
He strained to hear the reply, but he couldn’t hear anything other than a strange rumble and what sounded like rocks clacking against one another.
“Yes, he is the sweetest. However, I need you…”
Her voice trailed away as the clacking sound happened once more. It was all Paul needed to hear to convince him he had been wrong about her. She didn’t love him. He ran to the table, grabbed the box, and charged through the hallway — bursting through the darkness and tumbling down an unexpected slope until he hit a small rock formation.
His vision swam for a moment, and all he could do was wonder why the world had dropped out from under his feet. When he came to, he saw a man encased in ice. He blinked a few times, looking at the face of one of the men on one of the missing posters in the window earlier. Then he saw the gigantic white dragon looking down at him. Crystals jutted from its head and neck. Its crystalline blue eyes stared at him for a moment, studying him until the dragon gasped suddenly, making him realize what it was.
No, not what it was; who it was. “Ophelia?” he asked, unsure.
The dragon yelped and glanced from side to side, obviously trying to find a place to hide, but there weren’t exactly many places in the enormous cave. He tilted his head. “Ophelia, is that you?”
“Maybe,” the dragon replied.
“Maybe? Either it’s you or it isn’t.”
The dragon hopped on its forelegs for a moment, straightened its neck, and opened its mouth to let out a very strange sound. “Quack!”
Paul’s eyelids fluttered as much as his voice. “Why did you do that?”
“I’m a duck.”
“You aren’t a duck, Ophelia.”
The dragon turned its head to the side and stuck its giant snout into the air. “Shows you what you know. How do you know I’m not a duck?”
“Ducks don’t talk.”
“Sure they do.”
“We have a park full of them. We saw them last week, remember? None of them spoke.”
“I know,” the dragon said. She chewed on her lip. “They were delicious though.”
The dragon’s eyes went wide in terror, and they shifted for a moment. “I mean that I’m a special Norweiglandian duck.”
“Oh poo, I knew I should have said Icelavania instead.” The dragon lowered its head, resting it in front of Paul. It had a sorry look on its face, as though it were almost ready to burst into tears. “You weren’t supposed to find this out, you know? You were supposed to run away, just like everyone else does. You weren’t supposed to love me. You were just supposed to be another human to eat, but then I couldn’t.” She rolled her eyes. “Mom always told me ‘Ophelinax, never date your food. This is how your half-brothers happened.’ I didn’t believe her back then, but now I do.”
“So…you are a dragon?” Paul asked.
Ophelia nodded her head.
“How in the world…?”
“Daddy said I would get in trouble staying in a human city. I said I wanted to know what it was all about. He fought with me every day until I forced him to relent. He gave me this cave and a few magical spells to keep me in human form when needed.”
“I slept in, forgot to eat.” She nodded toward the man encased in ice. “I was going to eat when someone called and demanded that I see him right away.”
Paul rubbed the back of his neck. “Sorry about that.”
Ophelia sighed and stared at him for a moment. “Let me guess. You listened to what Jim had to say again, didn’t you?”
He nodded sheepishly.
“You need a better class of friends, you know that?”
“I need a woman who isn’t a dragon either.”
She smirked, moved closer, and nudged him with her snout. “If you really wanted a ‘woman,’ you wouldn’t be here now.”
Paul sighed and looked at her for a moment. She fluttered her eyes and smiled, revealing sharp teeth like the one inside the cube. “So, what do we do from here?”
“Well, you know my secret,” she replied. “You can do whatever you want. If you want to tell someone, I will have to eat you. I’ll let you know right now that I hate fresh food, but if I have to, I will. I am hoping that you love me enough not to mention anything, though.”
His eyes shifted from the frozen man to Ophelia. If she hadn’t fallen in love with him, he might have been entombed in ice right now or even devoured and used for a magical energy source, or something.
Ophelia stretched her arm out and patted his shoulder with the end of her claw. “It’s probably best not to think about all the people I have eaten, that’ll just ruin the mood.” She smiled, tilted her head, and her eyes widened. “Didn’t you say you had a prezzie for me?”
“A prezzie…?” Paul thought for a moment, nodded once, and handed the small velvet box to her. It looked so tiny in her hands, and he wasn’t even sure if she would like it, much less that it would fit on her. “I don’t think the chain is long enough now, though.”
She flipped open the lid and looked at the contents. She squealed like a little girl, slapped her tail against the ground until the cave shook, and pulled out the small snowflake bauble encrusted with little diamond flakes. “It’s very pretty, just like the snow in Norweiglandia.”
“I’m sure it’s not every day your lunch gives you a present,” Paul said.
“I know you are joking,” Ophelia retorted. She placed the bauble back into the box and then poked his shoulder with the tip of her claw. “You’re more of a breakfast person anyway. You’d go well with bacon or sausage.”
They stared at one another for a few tense moments. Paul chortled first, allowing Ophelia to join in. Their laughter trailed away after a few moments and Paul pushed himself to his feet. He brushed the dirt from his trench coat and looked at the door, high up on the side of the cave. “I should let you eat something, shouldn’t I?” he asked.
“You don’t have to go, you know,” Ophelia replied.
“Oh no, I don’t need a visual on my own demise.”
She grinned and tapped the box. “Can I call you later, when all this mess gets sorted out?”
“Yes, that’s fine.”
“You’re still going to talk to me?”
“Of course I will.”
“Because I can just eat you right now and get it over with. I’m not sure I can handle rejection.”
Paul’s eyes narrowed and he arched an eyebrow. Ophelia grinned at him and wiggled her crystalline brow. He didn’t know if he should laugh or not, but forced a smile to make sure he didn’t alienate her. He drew in a deep breath and exhaled. “I should go.”
“Get home safe, please?”
“I will. I promise.”
He turned and trudged up the steep cave incline, taking only a moment to glance over his shoulder and watch Ophelia pull out the necklace once more and coo over it like a teenager. She blindly grabbed at the man encased in ice and snapped off a chunk, tossing it in her mouth like a chicken nugget. He shivered and pulled his coat tighter, wondering if he might suffer the same fate one day. At least dragon girls are just like human ones; they enjoy shiny things as much as anyone else.
Besides, no one lives forever, right?
Matthew Eaton labors pitifully along the beautiful Monterey Bay, toiling under gorgeous conditions and fantastic weather in the den of his own imagination and with tears crying blood. That’s right, he’s so writerly his tears weep blood, that’s how dedicated he is to the craft. He has a few pieces scattered along the interwebs, and pounds his head against the keys in spasm like fashion to update his blog, MatthewEatonWriter.com (he doesn’t promise it makes sense, he just promises to keep the kids off his lawn).
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Tags: fantasy, Matthew Eaton, relationships, romance